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# On Letters of Recommendation

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CEO
Joined: 17 Jul 2004
Posts: 3281

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03 Oct 2005, 19:53
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On Letters of Recommendation

Letter of Recommendation are understandably a matter of concern for many applicants.

In general, the best letters of recommendation:

1) Provide a persuasive narrative of why you are a strong candidate

2) Constitute a meaningful marginal contribution to your application (i.e. they tell the admission officer something valuable that is not provided by other elements of the application including the other letters).

Many students fixate on WHO should write the letter. In general it is not WHO writes the letter that is important so much as how that personâ€™s identity affects the interpretation of the CONTENT of the letter (unless, of course, the school specifically asks for letters from certain individuals).

Perhaps some examples will help:

Imagine a letter from an alumnus/alumna:
If this alumnus knows the rigor of the program first hand and can relate a story that illustrates how this specific candidate has handled complex situations in the past, helped a troubled team work together, learned a new system is record time while helping others learn it as well . . . this is worth something. A sparse recommendation will do little to advance your candidacy (e.g. I know Pendelton Business School and I know Joe, Joe is a good guy so he would be a good guy for Pendelton).

Letter from famous/esteemed person: This could go either way. A compelling letter that happens to be from an esteemed person is great. A weak letter from virtually anyone, including an esteemed person, is not worth much. It is important to distinguish between input in the form of a â€œgood wordâ€

Last edited by Hjort on 03 Oct 2005, 21:18, edited 3 times in total.
CEO
Joined: 17 Jul 2004
Posts: 3281

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03 Oct 2005, 20:48
A Conceptual View of Letters of Recommendation

It is tempting to believe that LORs are extremely useful in determining the most successful students. They are not. Letters of Recommendation provide little predictive power of academic success relative to other predictors such as grades and GMAT scores. In concert with other predictors, LORs are remarkably weak marginal contributors to the prediction of academic success. To some extent one could justify LORs based on the need to distinguish students who are already at the right tail of the grade/GPA distribution but it is unclear if they add much.

But, of course, LORs persist, presumably for a reason beyond path dependence. One very useful aspect of LORs is that they provide a narrative evaluation of the student. This sort of "high context" information is difficult to obtain from other sources of information such as grades, tests scores and other standardized or quasi-standardized measures. In addition, unlike other forms of narrative input (e.g. student essays and interviews) LORs come from an external source are thus viewed to be less likely to be corrupted by student influence.

Schools are generally guarded about revealing how they evaluate LORs and might not genuinely know the impact of the LORs on the probability of admission.

Regardless, LORs are important because they are a true "wild card" in the admissions process.

LORs are unusual in the sense that they are blind score, blind content, single-shot, externally provided instruments.

Blind score: Students are not made aware of their performance on this instrument. Contrast this with the GMAT where you are given a precise indication of your standing relative to other candidates.

Blind content: Depending on the school, you are generally restricted from seeing or even verifying the content of a Letter of Recommendation. In contrast, you are able to look at a copy of your college transcript to verify that it is correct. In the case of the GMAT, you are given a pretty good idea of the content of the instrument and how you will be evaluated.

Single-shot: In any given year, you are given only one chance to submit a set of LORs to a specific school. In contrast, candidates can take the GMAT many times and take the best score.

Externally provided- GMAT and LORs are both externally provided. In contrast, essays are provided by the student.

How is all of this important?

It shows that you must be very careful regarding how you select your letter writers:

They might write weak letters
They might be racist, sexist, bigoted, jingoistic etc. and adjust the strength of their recommendations in accordance with their prejudice (remember- if you cannot read the letter how could you ever challenge the truth or origin of the authorâ€™s assertions?)
They might be confused or just plain spiteful and include misleading or factually incorrect negative information about you.

To top it off, you have little ability to ever learn what was written about you in a confidential LOR (regardless of its veracity) and whether it was used against you. Of course, readers of LORs might disregard some weak recommendations as the product of angry or confused writers. One advantage of having several LORs per student is that you can see if a weak opinion is shared among the letter writers. Nonetheless, this is not something that one should rely upon (plus the reader might wonder if the author of the harsh review was simply more honest or observant than the other writers were). I have read many letters of recommendation over the years. Most of the LORs I have read were of limited relevance since the overwhelming majority were so positive (it seems that every candidates was somehow â€œextraordinaryâ€

Last edited by Hjort on 12 Oct 2005, 21:43, edited 2 times in total.
CEO
Joined: 17 Jul 2004
Posts: 3281

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03 Oct 2005, 21:22
How to Manage Recommendations

1) "Map out" the general information that you want each specific author to include about you (remember, you only have a limited amount of space to argue for your candidacy- use each opportunity wisely)

2) Give the recommender a long advance warning of your need for the letter (in some cases this might not be possible)

3) Perhaps the most important step: Obtain an EXPLICIT commitment from the author that she will give you the highest possible recommendation. Do not be bashful- a tepid letter is a waste of everybody's time and effort.

4) Provide a list of key points you want that writer to stress in addition to your resume and any necessary forms.

5) Consider providing your essays to the writer (I prefer a summary of the major MBA questions to avoid overwhelming the reader with dozens of essays but use your knowledge of the author to decide how much information to include).

6) Check on the progress of the letter and make certain that the author has all of the necessary forms and information. If the letters are starting to lag you might have to start acting like a collections agent.
Manager
Joined: 15 Feb 2005
Posts: 246
Location: Rockville

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13 Oct 2005, 07:40
Completely agree with Hjort, i think you need to make sure your recommender realizes (what is the first question for most mba programs)"What are your achievements, LT and ST goals, Why an MBA, why now?
Also sometimes recommenders forget specific task you do for them so make sure u remind them of how wonderful u have been at ur job. Incase things have been rocky point to the changes you have made.
Intern
Joined: 20 Oct 2005
Posts: 12

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11 Dec 2005, 01:15
Hi Hjort,
Thank you for the valuable info. I'm in a situation where my direct supervisor has agreed to fill in the recommendations. The issue is
- His English is not that good
- Iâ€™m not 100% confident that he would write what Iâ€™m looking for
I'm thinking of having him write on official letterhead, would that be a viable option? I know that most schools don't accept paper based LOR, but what should I do? Schools are stressing on the importance of getting a LOR from my current supervisor.

Intern
Joined: 08 Jul 2005
Posts: 8

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03 Jan 2006, 01:19

How does NOT waiving my right to review the recommendation affect the candidacy?
CEO
Joined: 17 Jul 2004
Posts: 3281

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05 Jan 2006, 00:05
The general wisdom seems to be that letter writers will be more candid if they know that the student will not have access to the letter. Thus, some readers might view the "unwaived" letter as less credible than a "waived" letter.
Intern
Joined: 08 Jul 2005
Posts: 8

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08 Jan 2006, 09:37
You do have a point there.

One of my recommenders gave me a copy of his recommedation, and I only found out later that he completely misunderstood the question and gave a wrong answer.

So far, I think I've got 1 good recommendation letter and a not-so-well-done (already submitted) recommedation. What do you think? Should I just forget about it and get on with the rest of my application?
CEO
Joined: 17 Jul 2004
Posts: 3281

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08 Jan 2006, 13:15
If you want, you could find a third letter writer and submit that one as well. I would draw a distinction between poor letters-

1) In your case when it seems like the writer just did not understand his/her assignment and wrote a letter that failed to address the question

2) A letter where the writer gives only mild praise (e.g. Candidate X is a somewhat competent employee within the confines of his limited abilities and responsibilities)
Intern
Joined: 05 Aug 2006
Posts: 4

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17 Aug 2006, 13:28
Hi Hjort,

I am planning to apply for fall 2007.

My supervisors, whom I rely on a lot, resigned from my company and currently work elsewhere. Do you think it makes sence to refer for LORs to those guys whom i worked with 5-6 years ago rather than to my current managers. Do BSs require that LORs be from the most recent supervisors.

thanks,
skuchkarov.
CEO
Joined: 17 Jul 2004
Posts: 3281

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17 Aug 2006, 17:53
Five or six years is a pretty long time so I would take a serious look at your other options.
Intern
Joined: 05 Aug 2006
Posts: 4

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18 Aug 2006, 10:21
thanks Hjort,

that is what I thought too. It may give an impression as if I have not achieved much recently.

For instance, if a school asks for 3 LORs, is that ok to send 2 from managers and 1 from a professor? How about if the school asks for 2 LORs only. Do you think it would be a good idea to send 1 LOR from a manager and another one from a professor?

Do you think LORs from people other than managers and professors, from a mayor of a city for example, will be any good?

Sorry if I asked too many questions.

thanks,
skuchkarov
Senior Manager
Joined: 03 Jul 2006
Posts: 480

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21 Sep 2006, 08:15
Do adcomms draw a distinction between LORs from current supervisors and ones from previous supervisors?

In my particular case, I started a new job in April and am not comfortable asking my current supervisor for a LOR since an acceptance from a business school would mean I would be leaving the company. In addition, I have two fantastic LOR candidates at my previous company that would certainly be willing to give me high praise.

Would adcomms look down on my app if I didn't include a LOR from a current supervisor?
Manager
Joined: 22 May 2006
Posts: 180

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04 May 2007, 00:33
How about a recommendation letter from a subordinate? Do you think it could be construed that the person was under pressure to give a good recommendation? Which do you think is better from a Manager or from a sub ordinate?

Thanks!
CEO
Joined: 17 Jul 2004
Posts: 3281

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11 May 2007, 19:11
A superior would generally be better. A subordinate is probably less experienced than the superior and thus has less of a perspective for judging your ability. Further, there might be an element of the subordinate not being completely honest in his/her appraisal.
Senior Manager
Joined: 11 Jun 2006
Posts: 254

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22 Jun 2007, 09:12
What about a letter from a client of my company? I handle their account on a day-to-day basis and work very closely with them. It's more of a partnership than a buyer/seller relationship. We have a 2 year relationship, and this person could write a very detailed letter highlighting my teamwork, leadership, and positive qualities.

This letter would of course but the second recommendation, the first being from my direct supervisor.
Director
Joined: 18 Sep 2006
Posts: 962
Location: Chicago, IL
Schools: Chicago Booth 2010

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22 Jun 2007, 09:15
clients are commonly suggested as good recommenders in addition to your supervisor, so i think that would be great for you
Director
Joined: 20 Aug 2007
Posts: 851
Location: Chicago
Schools: Chicago Booth 2011
Re: On Letters of Recommendation [#permalink]

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03 Apr 2008, 12:53
Hjort,
My manager from the company I worked at before is no longer there. How about a rec from an employee (Senior engineer) whom I worked directly under for a few months on a project. He is directly under the eng mgr in ranking and can attest to my work ethic, personality , etc.

Do you think this would substitute as a "supervisor" rec?
Re: On Letters of Recommendation   [#permalink] 03 Apr 2008, 12:53
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